Etah/Lucknow: In outrageous remarks, PWD Minister Shivpal Singh Yadav, uncle of the UP Chief Minister, told officials that they can steal a little of public money if they work hard but they should not behave like dacoits.
As BJP and others lashed out at him, Shivpal, who appeared to have given `official sanction` to officials in the state to indulge in little bit of corruption, went into damage control mode, claiming the media had quoted him out of context.
Chairing a meeting of district programme committee yesterday in Etah, Shivpal, the PWD Minister, said, "Maine to usi din PWD walo se khule aam keh diya tha agar mehnat karoge to thodi bahut chori kar sakte ho, dakaiti nahi daloge (I have already told PWD people openly that if you work hard, you can steal a little, but don`t behave like dacoits".
"Agar mehnat karoge, jee lagaoge, agar inhe meetha paani de doge to chori kar sakte ho (If you work hard, if you give them water then you can steal)," he had stated.
At a hurriedly convened press conference in Lucknow today, Shivpal, a senior cabinet minister in Akhilesh Yadav government, was hard pressed to explain his remarks.
He said it was a closed door meeting with PWD officials in which the media had "sneaked in" and "quoted him out of context".
"What has been reported in the press is out of context. I had stated that the erstwhile government had indulged in largescale corruption, cheating and stealing which, I said, should be stopped hundred percent," the Minister said, adding that the SP government had come to power vowing to end corruption.
When reporters persisted with the questions on his controversial remarks, Shivpal said, "I have taken back those words. So, why are you raking it up. I have always cooperated with the press. I don`t know why the media is targeting me".
Shivpal said, "I was in Mainpuri and Etah for a district programme and vigilance committee meeting yesterday. No media was invited for the meeting but some how they entered the venue and recorded informal talks held with people`s representatives and officers".
Stating that such a practice was against journalistic ethics, he claimed that only a portion of recording was shown and not the entire informal discussion, which was going on after the meeting.
"I am always available for media...If such a practice continues I will issue only written statements", the Minister said.
Shivpal said he was directing officers not to get involved in corrupt practices.
"In the past four months I have suspended 125 officers involved in corruption. Our objective is to eradicate corruption and I have directed 100 per cent quality in works done by my department. There is no chance of any theft or stealing of public money", he said.
He said that he had ordered inquiry into corruption cases in previous regime and some of the cases were probed by the Economic Offence wing.
Slamming Shivpal`s comments, BJP leader Lalji Tandon said "A minister`s statement is like a policy of the government and if he says so then the government is offering a license to steal the public money. It is not appropriate for a minister to talk like this".
Former SP leader Shahid Siddiqui said, "Shivpal has always been making such statements. On Nithari incident he had said (such) things keep happening and we know how heinous that crime was".
"Now he (Shivpal) said steal but not loot...Please steal, there is nothing wrong but do not loot," Siddiqui said, adding "It is very unfortunate that a minister who is the uncle of the Chief Minister and who does not consider himself anything less than a Chief Minister talks in such a way".
"This awful situation was not even there during Mayawati`s regime and now you are giving officers a free hand to steal," Siddiqui said.
Asked about his allegation against BSP leader Swami Prasad Maurya, Shivpal claimed that he had detected Rs one crore fraud committed by him in the previous regime.
On Maurya`s statement that he would take retirement from politics if his allegations were proved true, Yadav said he should do so.
Terming Shivpal`s statement as "unfortunate", UPCC
president Rita Bahuguna Joshi said an emphatic clarification should come from the minister.
"Corruption of any magnitude cannot be tolerated", she said.
Leader of opposition in Vidhan Sabha and senior BSP leader Swami Prasad Maurya said a statement of this nature from a minister is like a "licence to steal and is most shameful".
"It amounts to encouraging corruption which would only result in the official machinery going out of control", Maurya said, adding "it only shows the mental bankruptcy of the SP government".
Tandon noted that corruption was a major issue facing the country and the statement of a senior minister is taken as a "policy statement".
BSP leader Sudhindra Bhadoria said during last elections "Our BSP chief and then UP CM Mayawati had warned that if SP government comes to power, supression of people and corruption in government will increase".=
Shivpal`s comments will encourage loot, he said, adding "If a minister makes such a statement, then people will find a way to cross the limits".